17th December 1998 - 11th January 1999
Northern Territory : Kakadu and Katherine Gorge
Queensland : Port Douglas, Cooktown & The Great Barrier Reef
Victoria & ACT : Melbourne, Wilsons Promentary & Canberra
New South Wales : Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley & Sydney
Northern Territory Kakadu and Katherine Gorge
We arrived at Darwin and travelled to Kakadu by 4wd. In December the rainy season had started so some parts of the park were closed or only accessible by 4wd. We saw this croc on an evening boat trip on Yellow Water, part of the South Alligator River floodplain. We stayed at the Gagudju Crocodile Hotel at Jabiru, the hotel is in the shape of a crocodile and has a good pool.
There are lots of walking trails in the park to viewpoints, waterfalls and aboriginal rock art. In the Nourlangie area we did the Anbangbang rock shelter walk (1.5km), the Nawurlandja lookout walk (0.6km) and the Nanguluwur art site walk (3.4km). These were all good, but it was hot and humid and the flies were a nuisance. The Mirrai lookout walk (1km) gave good views over the Arnhem escarpement. In the Mary River area the 4wd gravel track to Maguk was an interesting drive. The Gunlom (waterfall creek) track leads to the main attraction here, a clear plunge pool and small waterfall. Crocodile Dundee was filmed here. This waterfalls on the right (Twin Falls) are not accessible by road in the wet season, so we took a scenic flight from Jabiru airport. You get great views of the whole park and escarpment from the air and can appreciate the scale.
From Kakadu we drove to Katherine Gorge, stopping off at Edith falls on the way which were worth the short detour. At Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk National Park) we took the 4 hour boat trip which takes you to three of the seven gorges and allows time for a swim. Simon also tried his hand at canoeing. Our route back to Darwin was via Litchfield National Park. This park had some pretty waterfalls, in which you can swim, and lots of termite mounds.
Queensland Port Douglas, Cooktown and The Great Barrier Reef
From Darwin we flew to Cairns and stayed at the Thala Beach Lodge just outside Port Douglas. The Lodge is set on a peninsular of rain forest, each bungalow is on a platform set high in the canopy of the rain forest. The views are spectacular, particularly from the restaurant. The food and ambiance in the restaurant were both excellent.
Our next excursion was to drive along the Bloomfield track to Cooktown. The ferry across the Daintree river works on a cable system and is an attraction in itself. We took a ride on the Daintree River Train which included an interesting commentary on rainforest and reef. You can drive as far as Cape Tribulation in a conventional vehicle, but beyond here the track becomes a gravel road with some very steep pitches. Getting to Cooktown by the Bloomfield Track is an adventure in itself.
Cooktown was very quiet in comparison to Darwin and Cairns but worth the trip for its atmosphere and scenery. We stayed at the Sovereign Resort which has a very good restaurant and a pool for cooling down in at the end of a hot day. From Cooktown we visited Lakefield National Park and Quinkan rock art gallery near Laura. We returned to Cairns via the Inland road which was much quicker, but far less interesting.
We took the Coral Princess Cruise from Cairns to Townsville for four days to see the Great Barrier Reef. This was the highlight of our trip. You can view the reef from a glass bottomed boat, by snorkelling or by scuba diving. Within hours of arriving on board I found myself undergoing an intensive scuba diving course and took my first dive (all of 12m) down to the reef. It's certainly the best way to see it. We celebrated New Year on the boat, the crew had pulled all the stops out to make it a memorable night. One evening we moored just off Dunk Island and this picture was taken from the Island looking out at the boat.
Victoria & ACT Melbourne, Wilson's Promentary & Canberra
We spent a day in Melbourne and toured the city on foot and by Tram. We visited Captain Cook's Cottage in the Fitzroy Gardens, took the red tram round to Flinders Street Station, stopping off at the Rialto Towers for a view of the city from the 55th floor. We had lunch in the new Southgate complex overlooking the river and finished off with a walk around the botanical gardens.
Heading east from Melbourne we visited Wilson's Promontory, Australia's southern most point. We took a walk from Tidal River, to Norman point, Oberon Bay and back to the Mount Oberon car Park, it turned out being a bit longer than we expected (12km). From the Prom we drove to Bairnsdale where we stayed at the Riversleigh Country Hotel which is two Victorian town houses with turn of the century furniture and fittings. We took the inland route over the Snowy Mountains to Cooma and then on to Canberra where we did a short drive round the main attractions (Parliament House, Captain Cook Memorial Jet, Anzac Memorial and Telstar Tower).
New South Wales Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley and Sydney
Our first stop in New South Wales was at Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. We satyed at Lilianfels near Echo Point, it's one of the small luxury hotels of the world and lives up to the description. The restaurant is in the old house which has lots of history and atmosphere. We did the Prince Henry cliff walk and a walk to the three sisters, down the Giant Staircase and along the Federal Pass to the scenic railway which took us back to the top. In the Hunter Valley we stayed at the Hunter Valley Resort which is in a vineyard. We enjoyed a tour of the winery followed by a wine tasting.
Our trip culminated in Sydney, one of my favourite cities in the world. We did a walking tour starting at Hyde Park and visiting the Anzac Memorial, Archibald Fountain, St Mary's Cathedral, Botanical Gardens, Opera House, Circular Key, The Rocks and finishing on the Harbour Bridge. You get a great view of the harbour from the bridge tower, for the adventurous you can even climb to the top of the bridge itself. The harbour cruise is recommended, we took a half day trip around Port Jackson, also visiting the Middle Harbour.
We travelled to Australia with British Airways/Quantas and booked our flights, accommodation, car hire and the Coral Princess Cruise through Trailfinders,
Lonely Planet's Australia Guide
Lonely Planet's Barrier Reef Guide